The Treasury

Global Navigation

Personal tools

Form of Government

New Zealand is a sovereign state with a democratic parliamentary government based on the Westminster system. Its constitutional history dates back to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, when the indigenous Māori people ceded sovereignty over New Zealand to the British Queen. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 provided for the establishment of a Parliament with an elected House of Representatives. Universal suffrage was introduced in 1893. Like Canada and Australia, New Zealand has the British monarch as titular Head of State. The Queen is represented in New Zealand by the Governor-General, appointed by her on the advice of the New Zealand Government.

As in the United Kingdom, constitutional practice in New Zealand is an accumulation of convention, precedent and tradition, and there is no single document that can be termed the New Zealand constitution. The Constitution Act 1986, however, updated, clarified and brought together in one piece of legislation the most important constitutional provisions that had been enacted in various statues. It provides for a legislative body, an executive and administrative structure and specific protection for the judiciary.

Legislative power is vested in Parliament, a unicameral body designated the House of Representatives. It currently has 121 members, who are elected for three-year terms through general elections at which all residents over 18 years of age are entitled to vote. Authority for raising revenue by taxation and for expenditure of public money must be granted by Parliament. Parliament also controls the Government by its power to pass a resolution of no confidence or to reject a government proposal made a matter of confidence, in which event the Government would be expected to resign.

The executive Government of New Zealand is carried out by the Executive Council. This is a formal body made up of the Cabinet and the Governor-General, who acts on the Cabinet's advice. The Cabinet itself consists of the Prime Minister and his/her Ministers, who must be chosen from among elected Members of Parliament. Each Minister supervises and is responsible for particular areas of government administration. Collectively, the Cabinet is responsible for all decisions of the Government.

As a result of a referendum held in conjunction with the 1993 election, New Zealand changed from a "First Past the Post" (FPP) system of electing Members of Parliament to a "Mixed Member Proportional" (MMP) system of proportional representation. MMP is similar to the German Federal system of election to the Lower House. Under MMP, the total number of seats each party has in Parliament is proportional to that party's share of the total list vote. Around half of all Members of Parliament are elected directly as electorate representatives as under the FPP system. The remaining members are chosen by the parties from party lists. This change was put in place for the 1996 election.

Following the general election in September 2014, seven political parties are represented in Parliament. The total number of seats stands at 121, an 'overhang' of one seat, because the Māori Party won one more electoral seat than it was entitled to according to its share of the party vote overall. The National Party formed a minority Coalition Government after the election with support agreements with ACT, United Future and the Māori Party. The Honourable John Key, the Leader of the National Party, is Prime Minister and the Honourable Bill English, Deputy Leader of National, is Deputy Prime Minister.

The judicial system in New Zealand is based on the British model. By convention and the Constitution Act 1986, the judiciary is independent from the executive.

Table 1 - Distribution of Seats in Parliament Among Principal Parties Over the Last Six General Elections
  1999 2002 2005 2008 2011 2014
National Party 39 27 48 58 59 60
Labour Party 49 52 50 43 34 32
Green Party 7 9 6 9 14 14
New Zealand First 5 13 7 - 8 11
Māori Party - - 4 5 3 2
ACT New Zealand 9 9 2 5 1 1
United Future 1 8 3 1 1 1
Other 10 2 1 1 - -
Total 120 120 121 122 121 121

Source: Electoral Commission

Page top